John Bolton, Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland in February.
Michael Brochstein | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Saturday denied a request by the the Department of Justice to halt the sale and distribution of a forthcoming memo by former Trump national security advisor John Bolton.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth wrote that the government’s request to block distribution of “The Room Where it Happened,” a damning memoir of Bolton’s White House tenure, would be impossible to enforce because thousands of copies of the book have already been printed and shipped to distributors.
The ruling is a significant blow to the Trump White House, which has taken extraordinary steps in the past week to quash the book, set for release on Tuesday and already a bestseller.
In addition to its motion requesting that Lamberth halt sales of the book, which the government filed on Wednesday, the Justice Department has also sued Bolton personally, alleging that he violated nondisclosure agreements he signed with the White House.
“The Room Where it Happened” paints Trump as a “stunningly uninformed,” craven and mendacious chief executive, and one who repeatedly signaled his willingness to sell out the nation’s security interests if it meant advancing his own interests.
Within minutes of Saturday’s ruling, Trump tweeted fresh attacks on Bolton.
“Wow, I finally agree with failed political consultant Steve Schmidt, who called Wacko John Bolton ‘a despicable man who failed in his duty to protect America.’ Also stated that he should never be allowed to serve in government again. So true!” Trump wrote.
“Plain and simple, John Bolton, who was all washed up until I brought him back and gave him a chance, broke the law by releasing Classified Information (in massive amounts). He must pay a very big price for this, as others have before him. This should never to happen again!!!”
The question of whether Bolton’s book contains classified information is at the heart of the ongoing legal battle between Bolton and the White House.
Earlier this week Bolton’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the government’s lawsuit in which they flatly denied that there is classified information in the book. The attorneys explained that Bolton had undertaken a monthslong prepublication review process with the National Security Council, and had made several changes to the book at the request of reviewers, who signed off in late April on its contents.
The government claims that after this first review process was over, a second, unannounced review of the book was conducted, which turned up more classified information that the first review had overlooked.
Yet by the time the White House informed Bolton in June of its findings from the second, surprise review, the book had already been printed and distributed around the world.
Lamberth faulted Bolton for not waiting until he had final, written authorization from the government before telling his publisher to proceed with printing the book. But he ultimately ruled that a court order blocking the book was not the appropriate remedy to the problem of whether the book contains classified information.
In his order denying the government’s request, Lamberth noted that blocking the publication of a book is considered “an extraordinary remedy” to the problem of potentially classified information being released, including serious First Amendment issues.
In order to convince the court that blocking the book was the only appropriate course of action, Lamberth wrote, one of the things the government had to show was that such an order would actually work.
With the book already in thousands of bookstores, distributed to reviewers and journalists and purchased by thousands of people online, said the judge, a court order blocking it would not succeed in preventing the material in the book from becoming public.
Below is a photo of the printed book at the White House earlier this week, where journalists scoured advance copies and questioned officials about many of the claims Bolton makes in the memoir.
A copy of “The Room Where It Happened,” by former national security adviser John Bolton is staged by a television crew at the White House on Thursday, June 18, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images
“While Bolton’s unilateral conduct raises grave national security concerns, the government has not established that an injunction is an appropriate remedy,” Lamberth wrote.
“Defendant Bolton has gambled with the national security of the United States. He has exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability. But these facts do not control the motion before the Court. The government has failed to establish that an injunction will prevent irreparable harm. Its motion is accordingly denied.”
Given that the book is slated for release on Tuesday, it is unlikely the government will appeal this ruling.
But Saturday’s order does not settle the question of whether Bolton breached his employment contract’s non-disclosure agreement, which is the subject of a separate, ongoing legal battle.
This is a developing news story, please check back for updates.